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One teacher deserves two apples on tree

Kump Education Center continues to add apples to the wooden tree in our learning lab to honor beloved schoolteachers. This week we honor a teacher who has been nominated by two donors because his individual tutoring made such a difference in the lives of two students. This amazing teacher and friend of fearful learners is K.J. Shaffer who also serves as the president of the Kump Education Center Board of Directors.

Judy Guye-Swanson who also serves on the KEC Board wrote the following: “I would like to nominate K.J. Shaffer as an Apple for the Teacher tree. He was so kind and empathetic with my grandson in a particularly hard time for my grandson and family a few years ago. He made my grandson feel comfortable … and seemed to bond with him. He is a special person and has a caring and warm heart.”

Donna Fleming also nominated K.J. Shaffer for this apple for the teacher award, and she has been donating to KEC in appreciation for his tutoring that her daughter has been given over the last several years. K.J. started tutoring Annie when she was in high school. Her mother wrote that “he helped her through some serious math classes” at Highland Adventist School. Later when Annie was preparing for the Graduate Record Exam, K.J. helped her and she did very well. Now Annie Fleming has finished graduate school and is moving along with her career.

I have known K.J. Shaffer since his days at Davis & Elkins College when he was training to become a math teacher. Although he was a gifted student in math and used his excellent skills in technology to pay his way through college, he did not seek a higher paying career. He was one of those rare people who wanted to teach students who struggle to learn math. His first teaching jobs were at the Mountain School and the WV Children’s Home.

In these institutions he was teaching some of the most challenging students in the state. There he learned to gain the trust of his students before trying to instruct them. He told me that he was trained not to stand over a student in such a way that the student felt trapped in the desk. He should sit down and look the student in the eye to create a culture of trust. These students had not enjoyed relationships where adults treated them like intelligent human beings.

Often they had been abused by parents, belittled by teachers, and entrapped by law enforcement officers. K.J. learned to help students overcome their fear of failure by developing a habit of small successes. They learned to work for small goals and meet their own expected outcomes.

Small successes lead to greater successes as students gained a sense of self-confidence and lose the fear of failure. They realize that they can do math by understanding it one step at a time.

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